Banff: “We’ve let go of the shackles of TV”

Innovators from the production and broadcast sectors gathered to discuss the latest projects incorporating a multi-screen approach at the Banff World Media Festival.
June 13, 2011

Innovators from the production and broadcast sectors gathered to discuss the latest projects incorporating multi-screen approaches at a panel session during the Banff World Media Festival.

The panel, dubbed “Factual Online: Incubating a Multi-screen Approach,” was moderated by Simon Nelson from the Advisory on Digital & Business Strategy, and featured panelists who, in varying degrees, have incorporated multi-platform and transmedia storytelling for their factual projects.

Katerina Cizek, a filmmaker who has partnered with the National Film Board of Canada, has been busily integrating the latest content technologies into a series of multi-platform projects for the NFB, including the award-winning Out My Window, a doc produced entirely for the Web, which came out of her multi-year Highrise project.

Cizek worked with over 100 collaborators, including the unlikely bedfellows of architects, filmmakers and journalists to create over 90 minutes of material that could be viewed and interacted with across platforms.

“I feel like we’ve let go of the shackles of television,” she told the audience.

She maintained that while television only allows certain kinds of stories to be told in a certain way, producing for the Web is a “liberation of documentary” that allows the minutia to become epic in a large overview.

Scott Free Productions chose to use a different methodology than Cizek for its massive Life in a Day feature-length documentary,  turning to YouTube. Mary Lisio, senior VP, non-fiction & branded entertainment for Scott Free, told the Banff audience that after issuing a call for submissions for the project, they received 80,000 videos, submitted to them via the online video portal.

The Kevin Macdonald-directed documentary captured people’s moments of life and love in a global experiment and ran on a YouTube branded channel, and also screened at the Sundance Film Festival and most recently at Sheffield Doc/Fest.

Scott Free also utilized a branded YouTube channel for Bud House, an online reality series that took 32 soccer fanatics from around the world and put them together in a house during the World Cup in South Africa. The production team had to create six pieces of content per day, with 24 hour turnarounds, as Lisio said that viewers watching the series wouldn’t care about the house inhabitants’ reaction to a game that happened three days ago.

Over the course of the panel Nelson asked panelists a question that he said was often asked at the BBC to program creators: “If you took away the website, would it ruin the show?”

In the case of long-running Discovery Channel Canada series Daily Planet, Discovery Channel Canada’s president and GM Paul Lewis agreed that removing its online platform would be detrimental to the TV series, which has developed over the course of its run a highly integrated website, with producer diaries, active Twitter, Facebook and apps.

“Even though Daily Planet isn’t the highest rated show on the network, it’s absolutely the most popular mini-site,” said Lewis.

The panel also illuminated the fact that producers have realized that in addition to entertaining audiences with web series and online content,  they can also mobilize them online.

Zam Baring, managing director of KEO Films, has used the digital projects Chicken Out and Hugh’s Fish Fight to inspire consumers to create policy change over the treatment of chickens and fish. After KEO launched the projects, NGOs approached Baring to tell them that the production raised the profile of those issues more in  a few episodes than they’d been able to in years.

“Programs drive people online [and get them] engaged, and if you’re lucky, [you can] use their engagement to make more telly,” he said.

Lewis added that his head of digital at Discovery Canada says, “‘Don’t think about monetizing the content, think about monetizing the audience.’ It’s a powerful tool.”

Parting food for thought came from Cizek, who proclaimed, “The Internet is a documentary,” while Scott Free’s Lisio offered this viewpoint: “Viewers aren’t fans anymore, they’re evangelists. They want to share.”

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